Makers of Optio
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Like Nikon, Olympus and others, Pentax has a rich photographic history. The company was started in 1919 (must have been a magical year for Japanese companies as so many were formed then) as Asahi Optical. It gained fame in 1952 when it launched the Asahiflex I, the first SLR made in Japan. A big innovation came in 1957 when Asahi used a pentaprism (hence the name "Pentax") that allowed eye-level viewing instead of holding the camera at waist-level and looking down onto the viewfinder. This marked the beginning of two decades of remarkable Pentax cameras full of innovation and technological firsts. After that, insiders felt, Pentax sort of lost focus and went into too many directions. In 2002, Asahi Optical officially changed its name to Pentax Corporation.
Pentax digital cameras have played a relatively low key role. Most are very compact models in the Optio line that includes a large variety of 7 to 10 megapixel cameras, including a line for underwater use and one with a touchscreen interface. A somewhat confusing nomenclature makes it a bit difficult to figure out which Optio fits into what category, but the many gems amongst the Pentax lineup can make the time spent researching pay off big.
Pentax is also quite active in the digital SLR arena where it originally picked the odd "*ist" name for its line of DSLRs. There were no fewer than four *ist models, some weighing barely more than a pound. Pentax then standardized naming and the digital SLRs are now all part of the K-Series.